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Are Israeli settlers in West Bank messing w Palestinians?

Some quick history on a very controversial subject: About 20% of the population of Israel is Palestinian. There are certainly problems, but they live in relative peace (albeit at times an uneasy one). The link (Council on Foreign Relations) below provides some more context to this & I'd characterize it as pretty balanced.

Where things get particularly dicey (in addition to Gaza) is the West Bank which is not part of Israel. This area in theory was carved out for Palestinians (about 3 million live there) but an additional 1 million Israeli settlers have migrated there and don't get along with the locals. Bibi has not stopped Israelis from continuing to move there, which I deem to be a mistake.

Just as various factions in the US can be a little "nuts", many of the right-wing minority (who I deem whack jobs) in Israel add fuel to the fire on this issue. Ergo, while the vast majority of Israelis just want peace and are willing to live harmoniously with Palestinians, they all don't feel that way.

BTW: Don't confuse the 5 million mostly peaceful Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank with the murderous thugs who belong to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Ergo, you can hopefully be fiercely supportive of the State of Israel, want to kill every last member of Hamas, and still wish Palestinians the best?

Palestinians in West Bank Flee After Settler Violence: ‘We Were Forced to Leave’

Since the start of the war in Gaza, around 1,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank have left their homes

By Margherita Stancati and Fatima AbdulKarim , WSJ

Updated Dec. 3, 2023 12:01 am ET

ZANUTA, West Bank—Hanaa Abul-Kbash was home with her children in this tiny village in the occupied West Bank when she says an Israeli settler, armed with a military-style rifle, barged in telling her she had to go.

“I told him this has been my home for 21 years and that I would not leave,” recalls 43-year-old Abul-Kbash of the encounter in late-October. The man grabbed her by the collar, shook her violently, cocked his weapon and left, Abul-Kbash says. Days later, on Oct. 28, she and the roughly 250 other residents of Zanuta abandoned the Palestinian village.

Since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and the outbreak of the war in Gaza, violent assaults by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank have doubled, the United Nations says. Armed settlers in uniforms have shown up in Palestinian villages threatening to kill those who don’t leave, say residents, Israeli peace activists and the United Nations.

The incidents have prompted over 1,000 Palestinians from at least 15 communities to flee their homes in the West Bank, according to the U.N. and Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem. The number is more than double the total displaced in the West Bank between the start of 2022 and Oct. 6 this year, according to B’Tselem.

Hanaa Abul-Kbash braiding her daughter's hair in the West Bank city of Ad-Dhahiriya, where she and her husband and children have been staying.

Abdul-Kbash and her family, including an infant, relocated to Ad-Dhahiriya after settler violence reached their home in Zanuta.

Israeli settlers and Palestinians have also clashed in Al-Dhahiriya, residents say.

At left, Faris Samamreh, 56, left Zanuta after his wife and children were threatened. Beside him, Hijazi Samamreh, 57, is head of the Samamreh community in Ad-Dhahiriya.

The entrance to Ad-Dhahiriya was closed off.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, the building of Israeli settlements—considered illegal by most countries—has undermined efforts to create a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Settler groups and Israeli authorities say many Palestinian hamlets in the West Bank were built without permits and are illegal. Some of them were established in areas later declared military zones, archaeological sites or nature reserves and demolished. Israeli and Palestinian rights groups say the overarching aim is to forcibly expel Palestinian residents from parts of the West Bank.

The U.N. said Israeli settler attacks in the West Bank have doubled since the Israel-Hamas war began, prompting many Palestinians to abandon their homes.

Pro-settler groups and some far-right Israeli politicians are pushing for the formal annexation of settlements in the West Bank to Israel.

Settlers have attacked Palestinians in the past, but the current level of violence is unprecedented in frequency and intensity, rights groups say. “The moment the war in Gaza started, settlers knew they had an opportunity because no one was looking,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem.

Settler attacks have nearly doubled since Oct. 7 to an average of five a day, resulting in the killing of eight Palestinians, the U.N. said. In nearly half of the attacks, Israeli forces accompanied or supported the settlers, it added. A spokesman for Israel’s military said soldiers were required to intervene to stop violations by Israelis against Palestinians or their property and that, should soldiers fail to adhere to orders, they would be disciplined.

President Biden last month said the U.S. was considering issuing visa bans on violent settlers.

In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged immediate steps to hold settler extremists accountable for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the State Department.

Earlier last month, Netanyahu, who has overseen the expansion of West Bank settlements while in power, condemned settler violence, saying that a “handful of extremists” were damaging the country’s reputation.

Settler groups characterize clashes with Palestinians as self-defense and reiterate their stance that Jews have a historical right to the land—a conviction reinforced by the events of Oct. 7.

Tal Rachmani, a spokeswoman for the council that administers Israeli settlements south of the West Bank city of Hebron, said settler violence “doesn’t exist here. We live here and I know the people. It’s a lie.”

Zanuta, perched on a rocky hillside south of Hebron, is now a ghost town. Stone-brick houses have neither roofs nor furniture. The village school, funded by the European Union, had shattered windows and school books strewn on classroom floors.

An archeological site in Susiya; Amitai Sharif, an Israeli human-rights activist with his friend, Mohammed Nawaja, is staying in Susiya; a ruined community well.

In the weeks leading up to the exodus Israeli settlers destroyed or damaged water cisterns, solar panels, cars and homes, according to residents and the U.N. They also said settlers used remote-controlled drones to harass villagers, following them around as they carried out mundane tasks, from washing clothes to baking bread.

“We were forced to leave,” said Faris Samamreh, husband of Abul-Kbash. The couple, their eight children and livestock moved to the nearby city of Ad-Dhahiriya with relatives at the end of October. Settler attacks have happened there, too, they said. “We didn’t have a choice because we could not sleep,” in Zanuta, he said. Abul-Kbash said she and her son were hit by a soldier before they left Zanuta.

The Israeli military didn’t respond when asked whether soldiers had been disciplined or to comment about the events in Zanuta.

The West Bank has seen a major increase in violence since the war started, as Israeli forces stepped up military operations in response to what they say is an increase in militant activity in the territory.

Israeli settlements, home to some 500,000 Israelis, are concentrated in the 60% of the West Bank that is administered directly by Israeli authorities.

“The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” said Raaya Azulay, 37, who runs a coffee-and-food truck at an archaeological site in Susiya, in the hills south of Hebron. Azulay says she doesn’t agree with violence but said she can sometimes understand why violent settlers act the way they do since they “are fighting for this country.”

A verdant, fenced-off Israeli settlement named Susiya is down the road from the ramshackle Palestinian village by the same name, a cluster of huts surrounded by sheep pens, grazing land and vegetable patches.

The Palestinian village, home to some 300 people, has become a global symbol of the Palestinian movement against expanding Israeli territorial control in the West Bank, after pushing back against repeated efforts to oust them. Israeli authorities want the homes demolished because they don’t have permits, which Israel rarely issues to Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.

Residents insist they have a right to land they and their ancestors have inhabited decades, a position supported by the U.S. and European governments.

Nitzan Sar-Avi, 20, has lived in the Israeli settlement all her life. “Kicking them out isn’t a solution because there is nowhere to kick them to,” she said of her Arab neighbors. “But there needs to be an understanding that we are the homeowners.”

On the night of Oct. 11, armed men wearing balaclavas and military uniforms entered the village of Susiya, going from house to house and banging on doors, according to residents, Israeli peace activists and footage of the incident taken by locals and viewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Your time is running out” the men said, according to witnesses. One resident said he and his children had a rifle pointed at them.

Israel’s police, which oversees alleged violations by Israelis in the West Bank, said it investigates reports of violence by Israelis and declined to comment on specific cases.

“All of this is meant to terrorize people, to force them to leave,” said Jihad Nawaja, who heads Susiya’s village council.

Settlers have since bulldozed water wells and olive trees in the village. Villagers now watch for settlers, communicating via a WhatsApp group. When settlers approach, residents gather for protection.

Since the war started “the intensity of settler violence has increased dramatically,” said 20-year-old Amitai Sharif, one of many Israeli volunteers who provide a so-called “protective presence” to Palestinian communities in places like Susiya aimed at dissuading violent settlers from attacking Palestinians and documenting their abuses. “Settlers will say: you have 24 hours to leave.”

The village of Susiya has been so contentious for so long partly because it sits between the Israeli settlement of Susiya and a fourth-century synagogue.

“We are not just coming and taking their land. We have a 2,000 year history here,” said Yechiam Dahan, who manages the archaeological site.

Susiya’s Palestinian residents who lived in dwellings surrounding the synagogue site were forced to make way for the archaeological dig there in 1986. Nasser Nawaja was 3 when his family was evicted; he now lives in the nearby village of Susiya.

“Settlers are threatening us, attacking us, and telling us that if we don’t leave we will be killed. But we will never leave,” said Nawaja. “This is our village.”

Anat Peled contributed to this article.

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